Home Read Albums Of The Week: The Mountain Goats | Jenny From Thebes

Albums Of The Week: The Mountain Goats | Jenny From Thebes

John Darnielle puts one of his recurring characters into the spotlight for a change.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:The Mountain Goats’ catalog is thick with recurring characters. Jenny, who originally appears in the All Hail West Texas track bearing her name, as well as in Straight Six from Jam Eater Blues and Transcendental Youth Side 2 jam Night Light, is one of these — someone who enters a song unexpectedly, pricking up the ears of fans who are keen on continuing the various narrative threads running through The Mountain Goats’ discography before vanishing into the mist.

In these songs, Jenny is largely defined by her absence, and she is given that definition by other characters. She is running from something. These features are beguiling, both to the characters who’ve told her story so far and to the listener. They invite certain questions: Who is Jenny, really? What is she running from? Well, she’s a warrior and a thief, and, this being an album by The Mountain Goats, it’s a safe bet whatever she’s fleeing is something bad. Something catastrophically bad.

Jenny From Thebes is the story of Jenny, her southwestern ranch style house, the people for whom that house is a place of safety, and the west Texas town that is uncomfortable with its existence. It is a story about the individual and society, about safety and shelter and those who choose to provide care when nobody else will.

“This is the first album since Tallahassee to consist entirely of songs about a character or characters from previous songs,” writes John Darnielle. “That character is Jenny, a woman who rides a motorcycle, was beloved of an unnamed narrator who thought of their life together as resembling that of the pirate — free, criminal, reckless, and joyful — and who, when we first meet her, is about to disappear. In these songs, she hasn’t yet escaped. As with every living human being, there are as many versions of Jenny’s story as there are possible futures; this one’s a little sad and a little sweet and a lot violent.

“The songs I wrote for the album that we didn’t end up using were perhaps less sad and more chaotic, but still just as violent: what can I say? Some stories merit a little violence. This one’s about somebody who gets an eviction notice she didn’t deserve. Who is to blame when the cleaning crew comes through,I want to ask: the one who made the mess or the one who insisted somebody needed to clean it up?”